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October 5, 2012

Paul Gipe Answers WNET's Need To Know Questions about Renewable Energy

WNET: We want to ask you some questions about alternative energy.

Gipe. Whoa. Stop right there. "Alternative energy?" Wind, solar, and biomass haven't been called "alternative energy" for three decades! These technologies are as "conventional", "mainstream", "commercial" or whatever term you want to use as coal, gas, or nuclear. Geesh, wind generates 28% of Denmark's electricity. That's pretty mainstream. Renewables produce more electricity in Germany than either nuclear or hard coal. In fact, the only resource that produces more electricity in Germany today is brown coal--and that's not by much.

WNET: How will this presidential election affect the conversation around and support of alternative energy production?

Gipe. Made it more inane than ever. The fossil-fuel and nuclear guys have come out of the woodwork and launched a full-on, no-holds-barred propaganda campaign to stop renewables in the US. It's a fight to the death for them. They see what's happened in Germany where the coal and nuclear utilities are losing their shirts, and they'll be damned if they want that to happen here. Germany has permanently turned off 8 reactors and plans to close the rest by 2022 and still exports electricity to nuclear-powered France. The latest news is that the average wholesale cost of electricity in Germany for the last 12 months has fallen below that of France because of all the wind, solar, and biomass that have come onto the system. So yes, the fossil-fuel and nuclear lobbies know they are in a dying industry and they're determined to hold on as long as they can.

WNET: How does the U.S. compare in alternative energy production and use to other developed countries?

Gipe. Relative to elsewhere, we are not a "developed" country when it comes to renewables. We are a "underdeveloped" or possibly a "developing country". We lost leadership in renewable energy in the late 1980s and we've never gotten it back. Germany gets 20% of its electricity from renewables today--and only a very small part of that is old hydro. Denmark gets 41% of its electricity from renewables and that's all from new renewables. Portugal gets up to 50% of its electricity from renewables of which half of that is from wind energy alone. And it doesn't stop there, Denmark's goal is 100% of its "energy"--so not just electricity-by 2030 is to come from renewables. Scotland's goal is 100% of its electricity from renewables by 2020. So, no, the US is not in the same renewable league as "developed" countries.

WNET: After the Solyndra debacle, is the concern over the viability of domestic companies producing sources of alternative energy a legitimate one?

Gipe. Not really. The future of the domestic renewable energy industry, just as the future of the coal and the nuclear industry are determined by public policy. If you don't have the policy, you don't have the industry. It's really as simple as that. The American people want renewable energy. They say so repeatedly. However, the political elite in the US are effectively wed to the fossil-fuel and nuclear industry. If the American people ever saw what is going on in Germany where it is the common farmer and the average citizen who are driving the renewable energy revolution for their own profit and the benefit of their communities, Americans would rise up and we'd see a revolution here too. Solyndra was simply symptomatic of what ails us here. In my work, I write off any company that goes to the US DOE for a loan. In my line, that's the kiss of death. Of course, Solyndra didn't ask me for my opinion.

WNET: Where should the government be investing in terms of renewable or alternative energy sources, and how should the government determine what sectors to subsidize?

Gipe. These questions illustrate how out-of-touch we have become to what is happening elsewhere in the world. I don't want the government (local, state, or federal) "investing" in renewable energy. That's a recipe for disaster. (See Solyndra above and I've written about many more.) We, the people, must demand that our political leaders implement policy that allows us to build, own, and operate our own renewable energy power plants-ourselves. We don't need the "government", or Florida Power & Light, or pick any other utility to build or invest in renewable energy. We can do it ourselves. This is what really scares the status quo: the renewable energy revolution takes control out of the hands of existing companies and puts in the hands of citizens--from rich to poor. 51% of all the renewable energy built in Germany--and there's more there than anywhere--is owned by its own citizens, more than 100 billion dollars worth. I'd like to see Americans get the chance to do that.

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